A collection of analytical essays by Juliette Wells focused on Jane Austen as she has been imagined in modern popular culture. Highlighting the amateur (here she chooses the more positive definition as someone who is eager and ready to enjoy, rather than the more negative idea of an unskilled/inept person) communities that embrace the idea of enjoying Austen on a personal level, an idea most shocking and frivolous to the academic community. Chapters are devoted to an Austen collector, Austen’s image (and re-imaginings of her in modern art and literature), Austen as self-help, tourism in relation to the author and her novels, literature and film inspired by her work, and the overall communal and accessible aspects of her work.
As a fan and academic I appreciate the care taken to study and present the various aspects of Austen in pop culture. Parts of the introduction made me feel as if this could be a direct challenge to those that often criticize Austen, especially the appreciation for her work.
“… in particular the tradition of disparaging attitudes towards women’s reading habits, [Anne G. Berggren] came to think of her own reading style as being representative of her gender.” (p21)
It also serves to define the amateur community from the academic, yet gives them both room to talk to and between each other. (As someone who considers herself having a foot in both camps I appreciated the distinctions and defense of both.) Reading groups are places for “read[ing] in the ways that best suit them” (p77) and there is no fault in that. Throughout the text examples of people reading Austen for assignments and on their own are contrasting, somewhat proving that required reading kills all chances of enjoyment.
She successfully explores the reasons for reading (and enjoying) Austen, emphasizing the oeuvre as it is used for self-help and escape “regardless of their gender, age or nationality” (p74). I particularly enjoyed the idea of travel to become closer to the author that has been dead for almost 200 years. I think the urge to walk where she walked is a strong indicator of how deeply affecting her work can be (I was overjoyed to walk through Jane Austen’s Bath last spring). Another trend inspired by her books appears to be the idea of reading and enjoying collectively (whether through watching the movies together or book clubs). Going beyond communities based around books and film are Jane Austen societies, the Jane Austen Society of North America is especially highlighted.
The continuous thread throughout the collection, and throughout her inception in popular culture, is simple; what does Jane Austen mean to you?